I was all set to pick the Cowboys by double digits before the Dak Prescott shoulder drama began to unfold. As I’m writing this, indications are that Prescott might not be seriously hampered. The game hinges on that, I think.
If Prescott is functional and you’re comparing healthy talent, Eagles roster vs. Cowboys roster, this is a mismatch. Somehow Dallas is 7-7, despite a plus-90 point differential, which ought to be impossible.
I don’t think the Eagles are going to get a lot of guys back this week, and I definitely don’t think they’re going to get guys back who are truly healthy and ready to play their best. The pass rush was a trickle last week against a Washington offensive line not nearly as good as this Dallas group. There was poor tackling and inconsistent coverage against a struggling Washington offense that managed one of its best days of the season. If that’s how this game goes, look for a rout. But the Eagles’ defense has been good at home lately. I’m not picking a rout.
There is a path to winning this game for the Eagles, involving generating a robust run game, busting a few screens for big yardage, and not turning the ball over, while limiting Ezekiel Elliott and making Prescott’s arm beat them. But the group we’ve seen the past several weeks now is not one I trust to do these things consistently enough to win against a talented opponent.
I credit the Eagles for being resilient and tough, to get to this point. They’re going to need more than that on Sunday.
Prediction: Cowboys 32, Eagles 28
This may be the most difficult pick I’ve had to make. There are plenty of reasons to think the Eagles can find a way to win this game. They’re playing at home, they know what’s at stake, and the Cowboys have looked beatable in the second half of the season.
Both of these teams have underperformed relative to their respective talent, but I still think the Cowboys are the better of the two. They have a handful of playmakers on the outside, a very good offensive line, and one of the best running backs in football. Dak Prescott’s shoulder issue could be a major factor, but I’m not sure the Eagles’ offense is any better equipped to win a shootout than the Cowboys, even if Prescott is limited.
The Eagles have skated by with practice-squad call-ups on offense the last two weeks, but it’s hard to look past the fact that they needed heroic drives from Carson Wentz to beat the New York Giants and Washington, two teams that have combined for six wins this season. Darius Slayton and Terry McLaurin are both good young receivers, but Amari Cooper is still easily the best of the three. He had five catches for 106 yards in the team’s first meeting of the season, and even though the secondary is much healthier this time around, I still don’t have any reason to believe he won’t be just as effective.
The best argument I can make for picking the Eagles is the “anything can happen in a rivalry game” adage we hear so often. But, as I’ve said before, I’m not one to make predictions based off weird things happening.
Prediction: Cowboys 28, Eagles 24
Normally, my Eagles predictions are a sure-fire way to know the opposite will happen, but I’ve been pretty much on the money this season, especially over the last few months. I didn’t see the Dolphins loss coming, but I thought it would be a close game. Other than that, the Eagles’ last seven games since the Cowboys loss have basically unfolded the way I thought.
The Eagles are essentially what they are at this point. They have a workmanlike offense that can get the job done as long as there aren’t too many turnovers and penalties, but it lacks explosiveness. They have an inconsistent defense that can offset coverage deficiencies with a strong pass rush, but if there isn’t pressure, look out.
The Eagles could hit on all cylinders -- anything is possible -- but that really hasn’t happened all season. The Cowboys, meanwhile, are more of an unknown variable. They have more talent. They have their coach’s future in the balance. But they’ve been hit or miss most weeks. When they’re on, as they were in the first meeting with the Eagles, they’re on. And when they’re not, it’s ugly, but still pretty close.
Dak Prescott’s shoulder injury could impact the game, but he said he’s good to go Thursday, so I’ll take his word. Ezekiel Elliott’s the key on offense, though. He’s had the Eagles’ number. Call it a hunch, but I think Jim Schwartz’s defense will be able to keep him in relative check. I still think Prescott and his receiving weapons, especially Amari Cooper, will have their shots down the field. They’ll score some points.
So that means Carson Wentz and the Eagles offense might have to score 4-5 times, maybe more. I don’t know if that’s possible, especially with Lane Johnson either out or less than 100 percent, and a collection of young, unproven receivers there for the taking. The Eagles will have the home-field and weather advantage, but I don’t think it will be enough.
Prediction: Cowboys 30, Eagles 23
Two flawed 7-7 teams will face each other Sunday to essentially decide the NFC East title.
Both are good enough to win and bad enough to lose. The fact that the game is at the Linc isn’t much of an advantage for the Eagles given that the Cowboys have won four of the last five meetings there and the crowd is likely to turn on them the first time Cam Johnston comes out to punt.
Despite their season-long problems at wide receiver, I think the Eagles will be able to move the ball Sunday on the Cowboys’ defense. But they’re going to have to capitalize on every damn one of those 15-play, 75-yard, seven-minute drives. If Jake Elliott comes out to kick a field goal more than once in this game, they’re screwed.
I think they’re going to be able to run the ball and I think Doug Pederson has some tricks up his sleeve that he’s been saving just for this game.
But I don’t have any faith in the ability of Jim Schwartz’s defense to slow down the Cowboys offense or force some much-needed turnovers.
Ezekiel Elliott has pretty much owned the Eagles, and losing linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill to injury isn’t going to help change that.
Amari Cooper is playing on an injured knee, but the Cowboys also have Randall Cobb and Michael Gallup and tight end Jason Witten and Elliott and Tony Pollard out of the backfield.